Guide to Selling Your Car to a Private Individual

Selling your car to a private individual will almost always bring you more money than trading it in or selling to a dealer. However, a private sale also requires a bit more effort and paperwork. Don't let concerns about technicalities keep you from getting the most for your vehicle. This guide will help you tackle the paperwork and get the best price for your used car in a private sale to an individual.

The Paperwork Before the Sale

Before you start showing your car, even before you list it, get some necessary paperwork ready to show prospective buyers.

The Vehicle History Report

Print out the vehicle history report to show buyers you are serious and upfront. Many sellers include the VIN in the ad so prospective buyers can do this on their own. Save them the step, and run your own report. If you aren't the first owner, you may learn about some issues you will need to deal with before you can sell the car. If it's clean, it saves the buyer a step and lets them know you aren't trying to hide anything.

The Last Oil Change & Inspection Reports

The biggest hurdle to a private sale is trust. While the smarmy used car dealer is a common trope for a reason, consumers still trust in buying a car at a dealership more than a private sale. Having available maintenance records can overcome that obstacle. If you've taken good care of your vehicle, don't just say it. Show it.

Any Applicable Warranties

If there is available warranty information on the vehicle, make it available to the buyer.

Secure Odometer/Reassignment Form

If your car is less than ten years old and weighs less than 16,000 pounds, the federal Truth in Mileage Act requires you to verify odometer accuracy at the time of the sale. In many states, this can be written on the title when signed over to the new owner. 

Sometimes it makes sense to have a separate form signed by both the buyer and seller that provides the VIN, year, make and model of the vehicle, date of transfer, and the mileage at the time of the sale. Having this ready to go with blanks for the date and the actual mileage is another way to build trust with the buyer.

A Photocopy of the Vehicle Title

You may want to have a photocopy of the title available to prove the vehicle has a clean title. If there is a lien on the car, it may not be possible. Write "COPY" boldly and clearly on this version. Do not give it out to others.


If you borrowed money to buy the car and haven't fully paid the balance, the bank likely has the title. Pay off the loan if you can to get a clear title. If that's not possible, call the bank and ask for a current payoff amount. Provide this number to the buyer so they know how much to pay you and how much to pay the bank.

Emissions Report

Some states require a recent smog test or emissions testing paperwork before you can sell a car. If this applies to you, have the test done and make the report available to the buyer.

Tips for Marketing and Showing Your Car

Clean the vehicle

Spring for a nice car wash and vacuum the interior. A clean car is easier to sell, so a couple extra bucks spent on cleaning might gain you a couple hundred on the sale.

Be creative with images

Don't take a picture of the car in your dimly-lit apartment parking lot. Take it somewhere picturesque. There is a reason magazine ads for cars show them at the beach or racing up mountain roads.

List it 

List the car where buyers can see it. Online options include Craigslist, eBay Motors, and Facebook Marketplace. 

Set the price

It's unlikely you will get your asking price, so you may want to ask for a little more than you really want. On the other hand, people searching online usually put in a high price restriction. For example, consider selling for $4,999 instead of $5,200. Otherwise, someone setting their online max to $5,000 will never see your car.

Screen the buyers

If there is a call between you and a prospective buyer, make sure you have discussed the price so they are pre-screened as able to pay. You don't want to waste your time if they can't afford the car.

Stay safe

It's no secret that meeting someone from the internet can sometimes be a bit sketchy.  There is safety in numbers, so have someone you trust with you when showing the car. Meet in daylight somewhere public like a shopping center parking lot. Many police stations have designated places in their parking lots when people can meet for online sales.

Go on the test drive

Take your plus one. Sit in the back seat and simply make yourself available to answer questions. Don't try to sell the car while they are test driving it. The buyer may make reasonable safety requests, as well. Don't be insulted if the buyer asks for your license and takes a picture to send to a friend if they are by themselves.

Documenting the Sale

The Bill of Sale

Some states require a vehicle bill of sale when selling a car. Even if your state doesn't, creating one is still a good idea. It includes the terms of the sale, including the price and identification of the vehicle. 

Most importantly for the seller, the Bill of Sale should include "as is - where is" language. This means the vehicle is being sold in its present state and makes it clear you are not providing a warranty on the car.

Your Vehicle Title

If you own the car free and clear, you should have the title. There is usually a place on the official title for you to transfer ownership to the buyer. Fill that out, including any spots for the odometer readings.

Receiving Payment

Of course, cash is king, but many people may not be comfortable paying a large amount in cash. If cash is used, sign a receipt acknowledging that you received the money. Give the receipt to the buyer. 

When cash is not feasible, the buyer should provide a cashier's check. You could agree to transfer the vehicle at the buyer's bank to make sure everything is clear and legit. 

With online payment platforms, you can also receive payment through the app and confirm receipt of the funds before you hand over the keys. There are escrow services available if there is any question about the funds.

Don't Forget 

Depending on your state and your circumstances, there are some other minor tasks to complete before selling your vehicle.

  • Clean out the trunk and glove box. If you've owned the car for years, you may be surprised what you find in there.
  • Remove the toll tag from your windshield, if you have one. You don't want to pay the new owner's tolls.
  • Take your license plates off your car. Not all states require this step, but it's a good idea, regardless.
  • Call your insurance company. Make sure you're not paying for insurance on a car you no longer own.
  • Some states also allow a vehicle's seller to notify their DMV if there has been a sale. If available, do so to ensure there are no questions should the vehicle be involved in an accident.
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